Is there such a thing as rainbow butterflies

Why are butterflies colorful?

Many butterflies are amazingly colorful, while others are patterned so inconspicuously that you almost never see them. How come Sabrina, 11 years old, would like to know that.

The peacock's eye is one of the most magnificent native butterflies.


Among the butterflies one can find some of the most colorful creatures on our planet. Millions of tiny scales, which are arranged like roof tiles on both sides of the four butterfly wings, are responsible for the enormous variety of colors and drawings. Each individual small scale is formed from a single cell and corresponds to a hair.

These microscopic structures are responsible for the bright colors of the butterflies as carriers, their patterns are created according to the different arrangement. The wing coloring of the butterflies can be produced either by pigment or structural colors, whereby a combination of both is usually available.

Pigment colors

Pigments are chemical compounds that are created during metabolic processes and absorb light of very specific wavelengths. Many butterflies have a high proportion of black in order to be able to store heat. Melanin, which produces this black or brown color, is therefore a pigment that occurs particularly frequently.

Flavones are responsible for the creamy and yellow coloration of some butterflies, end products of plant substances that the butterfly ingests as food and stores in its body during the caterpillar stage. The green pigments of the caterpillars come from the dye chlorophyll in plants. Other pigments provide white, orange, yellow and red tones.
Freshly hatched butterflies are most intensely colored because the pigments can still develop their full power here. The sunlight bleaches them more and more in the course of their lives.

Structure colors


In contrast to the chemically produced pigment colors, structural colors are created by the physical properties of the butterfly scales. The most wonderful shades of color are created by light reflections on the surface structure of the scales. The scales do not have a smooth surface, but are mostly divided into ribs running lengthways. These structures break the light and determine the color impression depending on the angle of incidence.

The purpose of colors

But why does nature bother so much? Dark colors help the butterflies retain the warmth of the sun's rays. Shades of brown, beige, or green are useful when it comes to hiding from birds and other enemies. Many butterflies are masters of camouflage. To protect themselves from predators, colors or patterns can almost blend into their surroundings and thus hide from predators.

Caution inedible!

The opposite also serves as protection: strikingly bright, high-contrast colors are often a warning that this butterfly is inedible and poisonous. There are indeed some poisonous species of butterflies, but many have adopted these looks to deceive those around them. In reality, these are non-toxic insects that only protect themselves with the warning color. This is called mimicry.

You can find out more about this in WAS IST WAS Volume 43 Butterflies. Magical and colorful